Russians Used Social Media “Trolling” to Affect U.S. Election Results

March 4, 2018

American prosecutors have found that the Russian Internet Research Agency meddled in the United States’ 2016 Presidential Election. Contrary to what many believe, the meddling was not carried through in voting booths or tallying results. The Russians meddled by manipulating social media. Their project dates back as far as 2014. The Internet Research Agency was able to accomplish this by accumulating the stolen identities of American citizens. They then compiled a list of controversial topics that were likely to cause rifts between Americans and posted “fake news” articles using the stolen profiles. To evade being detected, the Russians utilized virtual private networks, or VPNs, to make it appear as if the posts were coming from within the United States. Thus far, thirteen Russian citizens have been indicted for these actions. Two of them had even visited the United States on a three-year tour to better understand what topics divide Americans. They focused their efforts on states where they knew the election would be a close call, such as North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Florida, and others. The Russian Internet Research Agency had a budget upwards of one million dollars, much of which they used to purchase ads on popular social networking sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

The motivation behind this was to create hostility between American citizens, with the primary goal being instability on American soil.

There is also evidence that the Russians wanted to dissuade minorities from voting as well. “We cannot resort to the lesser of two devils. Then we’d surely be better off without voting AT ALL” said one fake Facebook page called “Woke Blacks.” The Russian Internet Research Agency even went as far as to make sure that their postings on fake profiles matched the time zones of the regions from which the stolen account holders were from. This required 24/7 work, as the individuals who were tasked with monitoring the accounts were constantly adjusting posts and visibility to ensure maximum effects. They even had a running list of US holidays so they could seem as authentic as possible. The Russians were so effective at achieving their goals that American businesses, who were unaware that the accounts were Russian hackers, actually solicited their marketing advice for Facebook advertisements. Some even paid the Russians to help them with marketing. The Russians’ involvement with the 2016 election did not just stop with the Internet. They allegedly orchestrated political demonstrations in real life, that ranged from Hilary Clinton impersonators to “Blue Lives Matter” demonstrations. After Donald Trump won the 2016 Presidential Election, the Russians did not stop their efforts to divide the American people. There are warning signs you can look for on your Facebook timeline or Twitter feed that the information you are seeing is coming from a Russian bot. The four major warning signs are: frequent posting, anonymity of posts, amplification (re-tweets and reposts), and common content across pages. This famously shared photo of a woman wearing a hijab seemingly on her phone in the aftermath of the Westminster Bridge Terror Attack was traced back to the Twitter user @southlonestar, which is a Russian-backed Twitter account.